So, some jobs come with plenty of health risks, right? Think armed forces, the men in blue, bodyguards, bouncers, sportspersons – that’s the list that comes to mind when you think of words like ‘risk’, ‘hazardous’ and ‘life-threatening’ when it comes to careers. So obviously, your job is safe and so non-life-threatening. Right?
Actually, you could be very, very wrong. We are not saying that your boss’s nagging or the competitiveness of your job can prove cancer causing. In fact, the good news is that stress at your workplace does not cause cancer; the bad news being that it can cause your ticker to be very unhappy. The chemicals that you are exposed to in your seemingly innocuous workplace can actually bite you in the butt in the worst way possible, and when you least expect it. And face it, when it comes to the safety of workers, most companies tend to cut corners – and this is what could prove to be very dangerous for you, if you have one of these 15 jobs that can cause cancer.
15. Construction Worker
The risk of injury in construction work is pretty common – flout the rules, or stop paying attention – and you could be a goner in a matter of seconds. But construction work can also give you cancer. The more obvious kind is skin cancer – since construction exposes workers to long periods of sunlight, the risk of various kinds of skin cancers goes up significantly, as it does with other outdoor jobs like gardening, landscaping, architecture et al.
The other kind of rarer, but far more serious cancer related to construction is mesothelioma – a cancer of the lung which is associated with asbestos inhalation. Very common in industrial workers dealing with asbestos, it poses a risk to construction workers too, as many old buildings have asbestos in them, inadvertently exposing the workers to dangerous inhalation. Small asbestos fibers accumulate in the lungs, causing scarring and breathing problems – called asbestosis. This can also develop into the very nasty mesothelioma. The kicker being, it can take as long as 40 years for this cancer to show after your exposure!
14. Factory & Industry Worker
Any and all workers in a chemical factory or industry – paint, dye, printing or textile and other stronger chemicals such as acids and solvents – work in hazardous conditions. Despite safety precautions, small incidents are common in such high-risk workplaces, often leading to chemical burns on the skin and sometimes the eyes.
However, the steady inhalation of these chemicals via fumes, particulates and skin absorption can lead to many types of cancers; commonly of the bladder, lungs, and the larynx and sometimes even far more serious lymphomas. Despite every kind of protection, including face masks and body suits – the altered environment inside these manufacturing units make for a deadly carcinogenic cocktail. Think mustard gas, nickel dust, paraffin, secondhand smoke… Sounds bad? Well, it’s even worse working with, especially if the factory is located in a third world country with little or no rules enforced for a menial worker’s safety. A lot of these companies don’t pay for their workers’ health problems either, leaving these financially challenged people with hardly any alternative but to give up.
13. Rubber Manufacturer
You’d think that after years of using tires for automobiles, the rubber industry would by now have become safe enough for its workers. Nope. Not even close. It may be unsafe, but we still need people slogging away in carcinogen-spewing factories to make wheels, gloves, and even something as innocuous as rubber bands.
The process of making rubber involves a whole cocktail of chemicals and exposes the workers to chemical vapors, dust and other byproducts that basically are serious health hazards. Reports by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have shown many deaths linked to cancers caused by working in rubber factories – stomach, lung and bladder being the most common. More recently, leukemias and lymphomas have also been added to this deadly list – since many of these carcinogens end up getting absorbed via the skin – not just via inhalation. Despite stringent safety protocols, the chemicals find a way to seep into the bloodstreams of unsuspecting hapless workers and work their chaos on a cellular level, with deadly consequences.
12. Recycling Worker
Leaky batteries oozing dangerous chemicals – the very thought sends shudders through our spines. And yet many recycling workers face just this and far more. With our electronics getting cheaper and far more ‘disposable’ than what they were before, there are mountains of disposed of phones, laptops, cameras and tablets that many of these workers contend with.
And if you are a recycling worker in Guiyu, China – working with e-waste your whole life – it’s no mystery how you got that cancer. Nicknamed the electronic graveyard of the world, the recycling operations at Guiyu are primitive at best with workers using their bare hands to crack open electronics. The area is rife with heavy metal toxicity as workers often ‘cook’ the circuits to get the so-called precious metals, burning away their lives in a haze of lead, nickel, copper in a bid to make ends meet. And while Guiyu may be an extreme case, the heavy metal exposure that many recycling workers face leads to an increased prevalence of cancer in them too – kidney, liver, lung and nasal cavities.
Working the land – has a very wholesome feel to it, doesn’t it? Growing crops, feeding your family and so many others sounds so noble. Yet if the farmers knew that what they did was exposing them to carcinogens and made them more prone to getting cancers, they’d probably trade in their shovels for something safer.
One cancer study has linked the prevalence of breast cancer to women working in agriculture, meaning they had a 35% higher risk than someone not working in agriculture. Yet another equally scary report showed a higher prevalence of lung cancer – probably due to exposure to various chemical pesticides, fertilizers, secondhand smoke and radon. An Australian study has concluded that agriculture was one of the top five occupations related to higher cancer risks due to overexposure to engine exhaust, pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemical elements resulting high incidents of lymphomas, leukemias, and several other cancers amongst these tillers of the land.
10. Hairdresser or Barber
The so-called AIDS scare for barbers and hairdressers died its own death and is now basically an urban legend. HIV is a basically weak virus that dies within 60 seconds of exposure to oxygen and need to be transmitted directly into the bloodstream via intimate contact or transfusion to survive. HIV is humanly transmitted and does not live on objects or surfaces. The problem with their hairdressing job is the hair dyes and colors. The National Cancer Institute says that at least 30% of women over the age of 18 and 10% of the men, too use some form of hair color – including the professional hair dyes found in salons.
This means that a lot of this populace goes to the hairdressers to get their hair colored, streaked or dyed. The workers in the hairdressing industry are overexposed to the chemicals found in these hair colors, over prolonged periods of time, and this leads to them contracting cancers of the bladder, larynx and lungs.
You’d think that your local car doctor is probably prone to workshop injuries and neighborhood gang attacks (due to the questionable location of many of these automotive workshops) rather than cancer. While the former are true, unfortunately, so is the latter. Mechanics are exposed to many kinds of carcinogens. The more obvious one is petroleum – mechanics often use this to clean various car parts and even de-grease their hands. This makes them more susceptible to cancers like leukemia and there have been some studies hinting towards this too.
The other, hidden, but more sinister carcinogen in a mechanic’s life is asbestos. Flummoxed? Well, asbestos is still used in brake linings and clutch configurations because it’s resistant to heat. When these parts disintegrate and need to be replaced, that’s when the mechanics come into contact with these airborne particles, making them susceptible to mesothelioma. And unfortunately, mesothelioma is one of the nastiest forms of cancers to get.
8. Manicurists & Pedicurists
A couple of years back, the salon industry came into the medical spotlight when certain studies and reports showed that any nail salon employees were suffering from many conditions and diseases such as miscarriages, respiratory conditions, skin problems and yep, cancer. Lymphoma and myeloma were the common culprits – likely due to the overexposure of chemicals used for painting, cleaning and hardening nails.
One of the key suspects is formalin – used to harden nails and titanium dioxide, used in nail polishes and powders for artificial nails. One way that salons could prevent this is my making their workers wear face masks to prevent inhalation and by providing proper ventilation in the salons.
While this occurrence of cancer as well as other medical disorders is common knowledge now, people still make a living by this high-risk profession. Any attempts to change the formulations prevalent in this industry are met by a fierce fight by industry lobbyists leaving us to wonder – is the human life worth anything?
7. Plastic Industry Workers
If you thought rubber was bad, and short of say in tires, should be replaced by plastic since it’s a safer and less chemically complicated alternative; you would be wrong. Workers in the plastic industry are susceptible to liver, kidney and larynx cancers since they are overexposed to wood dust, cadmium and lots of other toxic fumes.
Another biggie when it comes to carcinogens in the plastic industry is styrene, now also linked to an increased rate of breast cancer in women. The problem with many of these studies is that they are far too few of them – the study of carcinogens is pretty much in its infancy and scientists are still working to find out why one person exposed to a carcinogen gets cancer, while yet another doesn’t. The studies that don’t show concrete links are also highlighted by industry lobbyists to prove that what they do, and how they do it is completely safe.
No surprises there, for not only are miners overexposed to asbestos, but tend to come into contact with uranium and radon. Frankly, studies have indicated that even living close to mines means you have a higher risk of contracting deadly stomach and thyroid cancers, brain cancers and mesotheliomas.
However, for the people who work in the industry, it’s a harsh truth. Diesel exhaust fumes in enclosed surrounding means that mining workers are at a far greater risk for lung cancer than anyone else. Then of course, there the death traps called coal mines. Coal dust accumulates in the lungs and the body has no way of expelling or processing it. The dust simply accumulates in the lungs and causes them to appear black in color. With overexposure, miners tend to get the black lung disease – the lung tissue gets blackened, inflamed, develops fibroid masses and if left untreated ultimately starts to die.
5. Metalwork Employees
The steel frames in your walls, that lovely iron lamp and that reinforced front gate – what do these things have in common? Metal, that’s what. And the metalwork industry is no better than the plastic or rubber industry either, when it comes to exposing its workers to a myriad of carcinogens.
Pretty similar to the toxins in plastics work, metalworking puts employees at a greater risk for kidney and larynx cancers. Yet another study points that women who work in welding or other metal-related jobs are also at a shocking 75% greater risk for developing breast cancer. The cancer prevalence is higher in metalworking perhaps because of the fluids used to keep the metals from overheating, namely, the cutting and coolant fluids. These chemicals are also used to remove and gather metal bits that have been cut or ground away. Inhaling fumes or having skin contact with these chemicals is a major carcinogenic concern.
4. Professional Drivers
Diesel exhaust fumes are classified as a class one carcinogen by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). Truckers and professional drivers of smaller cargo vehicles, including farmers and miners who tend to use a lot of diesel-powered machinery in close confines, fall under this risk category; as do small business owners who tend to drive around a lot.
When engines burn diesel, two carcinogens are released. Microscopic soot particles that basically stick to the lungs and equally dangerous chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs. Inhaled PAHs directly damage the cells of a lung on a DNA level, leading to lung cancer. The soot particles lodge themselves deep in the lungs, leading to inflammation, which in turn affects the rate of cellular division. So if any cells have random mutations, they divide faster, causing the cancer to spread quickly. While scientists don’t know which of these two is a more virulent cause of lung cancer and why; the result is clear. Diesel exhaust fumes are a sleeping giant, that’s just stirring.
3. Pilots & Flight Crew
Mostly, this list has focused on blue collar jobs; the workers that large conglomerates employ to do their dirty work, to make things that make our lives that much easier.
Entering at number three, is a white collar job. Who doesn’t love a pilot in a cool, crisp uniform – being the master or the mistress of the skies? We all do. Unfortunately, so does cancer. Pilots and flight crews in general are also at risk of developing cancers. Scientists can’t quite put a finger on the exact cause as of now, but most point to an overexposure to UV & cosmic radiation due to them being at higher altitudes for long time. The most common cancer amongst pilots and flight crew has been that of malignant melanoma, unfortunately the deadliest form of skin cancer. An aggressive, potentially fatal cancer – melanomas develop when there’s a mutation in the pigment-carrying cells of our skin, known as melanocytes. Any change in a mole, or any new growth should immediately be addressed to a doctor.
2. Sedentary Workers
By now, you must be sitting cozy in that comfortable chair, tapping away on your laptop – thanking the lord for your safe white collar job. Aha! The catch being there’s mixed evidence for a positive association between occupational sitting and cancer simply because physical inactivity is an important cancer risk factor.
A study compared the highest levels of sedentary behavior (aka the couch potato syndrome) to the lowest – and found that for people with desk jobs and no physical activity; the risks of contracting colon, endometrial, breast or lung cancer were high. Frankly, the study also found that even for the physically active, large amounts of sitting was still a cause for concern.
While we are not advising you to stalk to your boss’s office and hand in your resignation, make sure you keep walking around and do some stretching exercises after every 30 minutes of consecutive sitting. Your life, in your hands.
1. Shift Workers
After all of this scary stuff, some of you must be thinking, ‘hey, I’m cool. I work out in the day and have a nighttime job – all white collar – so no cancer risks for me!’ Well, let us scare the pants off you too.
IARC has classified night work as a probable human carcinogen because of the circadian rhythm disruption. Be it that night calling/research job you have, or that in the healthcare and hospitality, communication or transport – remember that a night shift caused the circadian rhythm in us to go bonkers. This is the innate rhythm of the human body which governs our sleep and waking cycles. Disrupting this is now being linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women, and in increased risk of lung cancer in men; as well as an increased risk of death from heart and blood vessel diseases. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) also classified night shift work as a probable carcinogen – though more studies are needed to figure out why disrupting the human body clock ends up causing cancer.
The good news is that with stringent safety protocols being enforced, the rate of occupational cancers has gone down. The bad news is that many of these nasties take years to rear their scary, ugly head – even after the carcinogen is no longer around.